Global human rights defender, Amnesty International (AI), has said the arrest of two activists with the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) is a crackdown on dissent ahead of first ever fresh elections.
HRDC’s Gift Trapence and Reverend McDonald Sembereka, who have been vocal critics of last year’s election, have been in police custody since Sunday after they were arrested in Lilongwe for threatening to shut down state residences in the demonstration aimed to pressure President Peter Mutharika to sign election reforms bills passed by parliament.
The worldwide human rights watchdog has since asked Malawi authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release the detained activists.
“The arrests of Gift Trapence and Reverend McDonald Sembereka are deeply troubling, coming amidst the highly charged political environment ahead of the election rerun. Many human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, including by President Arthur Mutharika and senior leaders of his party,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
AI said the authorities must stop threatening, harassing and intimidating human rights defenders and allow them to freely exercise their rights.
“The latest arrests are part of a well-orchestrated campaign aimed at intimidating and harassing activists. It sends the chilling message that they will be punished for exercising their human rights,” said Muchena.
At the weekend, President Mutharika warned Mtambo and his leadership team at the HRDC that they would be dealt with if they marched to the State House. The president mentioned Mtambo, Trapence and Sembereka by their names.
The Office of the Inspector General issued a statement on Monday, accusing the three activists of inciting people to break the law by calling on the public to march to the State House during their press conference on 6 March 2020.
Political science lecturer at the University of Malawi Mustapha Hussein said Sunday’s arrests were heavy-handed and a bad sign.
“You can see now the arrest comes after the president said something. It’s like the police were incited as well to do some sort of arrest which I think does not paint a good picture of the government. It’s like a sign of political intolerance so to speak or wanting to victimize human rights activists,” he said.
Hussein said since the shutdown was yet to happen, the police should have first discussed the planned protest with the activists.
Meanwhile, HRDC spokesman Luke Tembo said they will not be intimidated by the arrests.
“HRDC is a system, HRDC is not about individuals. We are going to proceed with our plans; they are not going to intimidate us. What we are going to do now is making sure that our colleagues are released on bail and then we proceed with our planned engagements,” he said.
Since last year’s May election results, the HRDC has been organizing protests, which have sometimes turned violent.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :